From wild to wacky—America's coolest winter games & destinations

November 20, 2015                 7m read time
Stephanie Mee


Dust off those snow jackets, boots, and shovels, and throw in a kayak or a kite while you're at it. The following winter sports make the most out of America's snowy destinations.

From the first snowfall of the year to the final days of the thaw, America's top snow destinations transform into playgrounds for those seeking wintery landscapes and outdoor adventures. Everyone bundles up and hops on the ski lifts, but why limit yourself to one sport when there’s so much to do in the snow? Try switching up your old ski routine with some of these high-energy, low-temperature activities.

1. Dog-sledding the Flathead Valley of Montana

Dog sledding at Turquoise Lake Dam  brent flanders

Dog sledding at Turquoise Lake Dam 

brent flanders

 

Picture Alaska and you might get visions of boisterous huskies pounding across the snow with a sled in tow. True, Alaska is the number one spot for dog-sledding in the country and the site of the world-famous Iditarod Dog Sled Race, but there are a few other places where you can also mush on.

Where to go: Try Olney, Montana, in Flathead Valley to sled through the tranquil Stillwater State Forest, where riders reach 30 mph on the most popular trail, the 12-mile Eskimo Roller Coaster. Visit Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs in Colorado to explore rugged backcountry trails in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

2. Wildlife + Wild Skiing = Horse Skijoring 

Horse skijoring race in Switzerland Ervin Monn

Horse skijoring race in Switzerland

Ervin Monn

 

Dog-sledding not fast enough for you? Horse Skijoring involves strapping on a pair of skis and holding onto a rope attached to a horse as the horse canters off at high speed. The sheer strength of the horse means you'll fly along at high speeds, and you can even try jumps and obstacle courses if you dare.

Where to go: To see this Norway-born sport in action—or try it yourself—head to Leadville, Colorado. Just 90 minutes from Denver, this charming one-stoplight town has been hosting annual horse skijoring competitions since 1949. 

3. Culinary Titans Take To The Track With Wok Racing

Wok racer sliding down a hill Christopher Radlinger

Wok racer sliding down a hill

Christopher Radlinger

 

Similar to shovel racing, all you need for this race is a wok, some snow, and a need for speed. The sport originated on a German TV show in 2003, but now athletes reach high speeds in real wok races on professional luge tracks. This is the perfect sport for those lacking a sled—but just make sure your wok has cooled down from your last meal. Get to the top of a hill, sit down handle-forward, and you’ll go flying.

Where to go: Payson Park in Portland, Maine, is renowned for sledding and snowboarding, but its 47 acres of hills are also a great spot to race on woks.

4. Desert Tundra, Winter Vibes: Kite Skiing Across the Great Lakes

Kite skier in Russia Konstantin Zamkov

Kite skier in Russia

Konstantin Zamkov

 

Awesome for kite surfers who want a new spin on the sport, kite skiing involves the same basic concept of using a kite to catch wind and propel yourself along. However, in this case, you slide along compact snow and ice rather than the much more forgiving waters of kite surfing. Beginners will want to start out slow on flat terrain before stepping things up a bit on slopes and hills. For an exhilarating look at a similar sport, check these videos of ZOZI Guru Susi Mai snowkiting.

Where to go: The best places to kite ski in the U.S. are around the Great Lakes, as this is where you'll find plenty of frozen expanses of water and low hills. You can also try Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, take lessons with Colorado Kiteforce in Silverthorne, Colorado, or head to any snow-covered golf course.

5. Shovel Racing. Shovel. Racing.

Angel Fire Shovel Races 2011  Angel Fire Resort/Jim Merritt

Angel Fire Shovel Races 2011 

Angel Fire Resort/Jim Merritt

 

It may sound like an unlikely sport, but since the 1970s competitive shovel racing has been a thing, and it was even included in one season of the Winter X Games. The premise is simple: you jump on an upturned shovel and use it to careen down a snowy slope reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. 

Where to go: The best place to join in the races is in shovel racing's birthplace of New Mexico, particularly at Angel Fire Resort, home of the World Championship Shovel Races.

6. Paddle Through Snow & Kayak Around Ice

Snow kayaking at Reno River Festival Reno Tahoe

Snow kayaking at Reno River Festival

Reno Tahoe

 

Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you have to pack up your kayak just yet. Extreme kayakers take to the seas on tours around icy locales in the north to see glaciers and whales. Inlanders with a need for speed can try waxing up the bottom of their kayaks and hitting the slopes to glide over powder and catch air over drop-offs and snow drifts. Just be sure to wear a helmet—and check your sanity—before any downhill action.

Where to go: The southeastern coast of Alaska is particularly scenic for its walls of ice in Glacier Bay and wild forests of Chichagof Island. Or head out to Snowbird, Utah. With an annual 40 feet of powder, it’s a perfect spot for those crazy enough to try snow kayaking. 

7. Only In Minnesota: The Art of Bandy

Bandy players on the ice Mitrofanov Alexander

Bandy players on the ice

Mitrofanov Alexander

 

The only place in the U.S. to play Bandy, a quirky combo of speed skating, soccer, field hockey, and football, is Minnesota. The game is held on a large rink with two teams of 11 players who use curved field hockey sticks to shoot and pass a ball down the ice in hopes of bypassing the goalie to score for their team. 

Where to go: You can watch the United States national bandy team practice at Minnesota’s Roseville OVAL (an outdoor recreation facility with 110,000 square feet of refrigerated ice from November to March) and maybe even pick up insider tips on the game. If you’re a real fanatic, head to Russia, where millions of people play the sport.

8. The Opposite of Luxury: Ice Yachting

Sailing an iceboat on a frozen lake Pi-Lens

Sailing an iceboat on a frozen lake

Pi-Lens

 

Diehard sailors don't wait until summer to set sail. Instead they get out on the frozen water in a special ice yacht with stainless steel or wooden runners along the bottom. When the wind is just right and the surface of the water is rock-hard and smooth, the boats can reach speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.

Where to go: You can go ice yachting on pretty much any frozen body of water, however some popular spots include the Hudson River in New York and Mallets Bay, Vermont, where the ice yachting championships are held.

9. Saddle Up For Snow Polo

Players at the World Snow Polo Cup saveriolafronza

Players at the World Snow Polo Cup

saveriolafronza

 

Just like regular polo, snow polo involves players riding horses and using mallets to maneuver a ball into the opposing team's goal. But there are some definite challenges to the adapted winter version. First of all, the ball is lightweight and made of vinyl so it doesn't sink into the snow. This makes it a bit more difficult to predict where it will go. In addition, the horses and riders need to know a thing or two about racing around in snow.

Where to go: Try a round or two in Aspen, Colorado, former site of the World Snow Polo Championship, or see regular competitions in European nations where the sport is popular, such as Switzerland and Austria.

10. One Foot In Front of The Other for Snowshoeing

Young guy snowshoeing through heavy snow Jim David

Young guy snowshoeing through heavy snow

Jim David

 

Don’t let the snow stop you from hiking your favorite trails. Strap on some snowshoes and start trudging through the woods. Stepping on the snow is quiet, so it’s one of the best ways to see the wintry wildlife without scaring them off.

Where to go: Black Hills, South Dakota, has a grueling Centennial Trail where you can trek 111 miles, passing lakes and herds of buffalo. Michigan’s Porcupine State Wilderness Park has 100 miles of trails, lined with 19 wood-heated huts so you can stop in and warm up along the way.

11. Winter Wonderlands By Carriage

Carriage rides in Breckenridge, CO Brandon

Carriage rides in Breckenridge, CO

Brandon

 

Riding a horse-drawn carriage through the snow couldn’t get more festive and wintery—and it’s the perfect activity for everyone, from babies to grandparents. Spend a night with friends, family, and a cup of hot cocoa for some gorgeous, moonlit views on a ride in the lightly falling snow.

Where to go: Aspen Carriage and Sleigh in Colorado offers classic horse drawn carriage rides through a historic mining town and Roaring Fork Valley. Or stop in Waitsfield, Vermont, where Mountain Valley Farm offers cozy rides surrounded by views of the Green Mountains and the Mad River Valley.

12. Explore Out of Bounds With Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skier in the snow Robbie Shade

Cross-country skier in the snow

Robbie Shade

 

Started by a basic need to travel through snowy terrain, cross-country skiing transitioned into a racing sport towards the end of the 1800s. Considered the oldest type of skiing, the activity is still as intense a workout as ever.

Where to go: At the Austrian-style Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, the hills are alive with the sound of swooshing skis. The lodge is home to the United States’ first cross-country ski center with 62 miles of trails on 2,500 mountainous acres.

13. Curling; or The Art Of Going Slow (and Really Fast)

Curling at the Detroit Curling Club in Michigan A Healthier Michigan 

Curling at the Detroit Curling Club in Michigan

A Healthier Michigan 

 

Split eight of your friends into two teams and put on your knit thinking caps for a game of curling. Nicknamed “chess on ice,” the sport requires a surprising amount of strategy and skill. You’ll need both as you take turns sweeping, which melts the ice and creates water tracks that help guide the large stones to their marks.

Where to go: Ice houses and rinks around the country have curling leagues you can join. You can try outdoor curling at the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel in Stanley, Idaho, where you’ll have unpredictable weather and bumpy ice for an exciting game.

14. Strike A Pose: Ice Skating

Ice skating in Rockefeller Center ChristinaMuraca

Ice skating in Rockefeller Center

ChristinaMuraca

 

Robert Jones pioneered figure skating in 1772 in England, but in the 1800s, American Jackson Haines added the elements of dance making it the expressive sport it is today. As one of the Winter Olympics’ most-watched events year after year, figure skating is a classic winter sport everyone should try. Lace up some skates and glide around on the ice—maybe even try a few spins if you’re feeling fancy.

Where to go: Rockefeller Center in New York is one of the most well-known spots to slide around, but there are also epic rinks in D.C.’s National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, the Boston Common Frog Pond, and Yosemite’s Curry Village Ice Rink, where you skate surrounded by the Sierra National Forest.

15. Half Pipes and Full Days: Snowboarding

Snowboarder in Park City, Utah Shaun O'Shaughnessy

Snowboarder in Park City, Utah

Shaun O'Shaughnessy

 

We couldn't finish off a winter sports list without adding one of America's favorite contemporary cold weather pastimes. Snowboarding has been wildly popular here since the 1990s, and today you can find riders on nearly every slope in the country. That being said, there are definitely some spots that offer more for boarders than others.

Where to go: Mammoth Mountain is particularly board-friendly with more than 12 parks and pipes where you can catch air and grind rails. Park City, Utah, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, is another good bet for its 3,000 acres of varied terrain and 114 trails. They even open trails up for night rides on December 25 and March 25.

For more strange and wonderful winter sports, check out our story on 7 of the weirdest snow sports—ever.

Stephanie Mee

Stephanie Mee is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Bali, Indonesia. Her work has been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, and she is constantly on a mission to seek out new stories and adventures. In addition to being an avid wordsmith, she is also an incurable foodie and wanderluster.

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